By Bonnie K. Goodman
President Barack Obama gave out his last Presidential Medal of Freedom to the man he calls his brother and Family Vice President Joe Biden. Obama surprised Biden in a White House ceremony on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 12, 2017 in the State Dining Room. Obama’s award to Biden had an added honor giving the Vice President the medal with distinction; only three others have received that honor. The ceremony surprised a very emotional Biden who was seen wiping away his tears.
At the ceremony, President Obama awarded his VP and partner in his administration the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Obama said, “For your faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country and for your lifetime of service that will endure through the generations, I’d like to ask the military aide to join us on stage. For my final time as President, I am pleased to award our nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
Obama speech was heartfelt but included some jokes, including telling Biden, “This also gives the internet one last chance to talk about our bromance. This has been quite a ride.” Mostly, however, Obama praised his VP, “He has made me a better president, and a better commander in chief. When everyone else has cleared out of the room, he’s been unafraid to give it to me straight, even when we disagree. Especially when we disagreed.” The President also listed Biden accomplishments as Vice President but also joked, “I have not mentioned Amtrak yet. Or aviators. Literally.”
The surprise award visibly moved Vice President Biden; he initially thought they were honoring First Lady Michelle Obama. Biden expressed after Obama placed the medal around his neck, “This honor is not only well beyond what I deserve, but it’s a reflection of the extent and generosity of your spirit. I don’t deserve this, but I know it came from the President’s heart.”
The Vice President’s speech was “off-the-cuff,” but between his anecdotes and jokes, Biden spoke of his family, his son Beau and genuinely thanked the president, and the role his has had in Obama’s administration. Biden conveyed, “There is no power in the vice presidency. There is no inherent power, nor should there be. But Mr. President, you have more than kept your commitment to me by saying to me you wanted me to help govern.”
The award is the second time Obama honored his Vice President thanking Biden in his Farewell address in Chicago on Tuesday, Jan. 10. Then Obama expressed, “To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son, you were the first choice I made as a nominee and the best. Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. We love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our life.”
Biden joins a very small club of Vice Presidents to be awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a small illustrious group who received the award with distinction. According to USA Today, “President Gerald Ford awarded it to his vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, in 1977, and President Jimmy Carter awarded it to Lyndon Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey, in 1980.” Meanwhile, only Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell have been awarded the medal with distinction now Biden joins the elite club.